In the physical world, an object must overcome inertia and have friction in order to move.  In the education world, what do we do as leaders to create friction in our school to make traction and move our schools forward?  

Before we discuss our schools, I want to tell you about what it takes to create friction on the railroad.  I came from a railroading family and I worked on the railroad for twenty years as an engineer and fireman.  I also worked as a hostler, which was a position that fueled and sanded the engines for the next shift.  Sanding you say?  Why would I be putting sand in a railroad engine when we all know that sand will ruin moving parts?  Not only did I put sand in the engine, I first had to take sand from the sand pile and shovel it into a coal stove that had a large funnel like device surrounding the coal stove. This stove heated up the sand and dried it out so that it would became dry enough so that it would trickle out of the stove at the bottom very very dry. If the sand is not dried enough it clogs up the system and the sand stops flowing.    The next step was to shovel the sand into an air powered system that blows the dry sand up into a tower ready to be poured into the sandboxes on top of the big locomotives. Next I would get on top of the big engines and guide the sand hose into the sand boxes of the engines.  After filling it with sand and fueling the engine, I would sign off that the engine was ready for service.  Now I would bet many of you are now wondering how sand could be so important to go through all those steps.  Well let me tell you that sand that is focused on a steel rail and comes in contact with a big solid steel wheel creates great traction (friction) so engines can pull a train of iron ore up a long hill.  Without the sand the engine’s wheels would slip and the train would be torn in two!!  

Now back to your school. Remembering the metaphor of sand and railroad engines, how do you focus your leadership (sand) so it will create traction for improved learning?

Creating traction requires that the leader knows what is going on in their school, what the children are learning, and why and how the teachers are teaching. If you could focus your attention (sand) on only one thing you will get the most traction by building trusting professional relationships with your teachers! When you communicate with your teachers, and other administrators or coaches who work with teachers too, that you are all here to help children be happy successful learners (the why) then your staff will give their skills and volunteer their hearts for all children.  In addition, if you know how to focus your resources of time, materials, books, technology, money, and quality teachers, you will have maximum impact on student learning. For example, getting the best researched reading materials and adopting the most effective techniques such as those from the National Reading Panel will have a focused effective approach that will get you the traction you need to have students learning to read and loving it!

Perhaps the greatest way to gain traction is to have a clear WHY the school is doing what it is doing.  Your mission or the “why” of instructional choices focuses time and resources as identified priorities that are in your school improvement plan.

As you prepare your School Improvement Plan for the coming year, you evaluate your data for academic achievement and surveys of school climate completed by students, teachers and parents.  This data analysis will help you focus your school’s human and material resources that provides the focused dry sand to unleash the tremendous learning power of your school without slippage because you have a focused plan that organizes and executes around your identified priorities based upon your data analysis and working conditions survey.

As you think and make plans for your school, remember how focused dry sand unleashed the mighty power of a giant locomotive so it could move their customers products to market.  Now you take your customers (parents, children, teachers and staff) by being the lead engine that has the focused power to lead your children to a successful happy life!


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